Friday, April 29, 2011


"It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness. That is life." (Jean-Luc Picard*)
All day Wednesday, meteorologists were predicting an outbreak of severe weather in the deep South, expected to arrive that night. As I listened to them issue their dire warnings, one word stood out to me.

The word: unsurvivable. That is, a person in the storm's path could take all customary precautions (short of evacuating the area) and still it might not be enough to save their life.

Yesterday we learned that wasn't hyperbole -- 329 deaths (confirmed so far) in seven states, resulting from 174 tornadoes (sighted), some projected to be rated EF4 or EF5. An aerial survey conducted by the National Weather Service revealed an uninterrupted path of destruction stretching over 200 miles.

It's been a stormy spring in the Southeast, so we can speculate that some of the dead might've been victims of self-inflicted complacency or "alert fatigue." But even people who heeded the warnings and prudently sheltered in the center of their basement-less houses, away from windows and outside walls, had no shot against 200mph winds that scraped entire neighborhoods off their slabs.

What happened Wednesday night isn't cause for fatalism any more than it's reason to be complacent. We should continue to catalogue threats, develop a preparedness mindset, plan and practice, and then take action when the time comes.

In the end, we may fail. Still, we prepare not because our survival is guaranteed, but because being ready gives us a fighting chance.

*Captain Picard was consoling Lieutenant Commander Data after the latter lost at Strategema to Zakdornian master Sirma Kolrami; from the episode "Peak Performance," Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Steel for the Missus

I devoted part of Monday's "Prying ayes" post to the Exhumer™ that now rides in my TrailBlazer. My wife doesn't carry a pry-bar, per se, in her truck. Instead, she's chosen this beast:

That's an Armstrong 1-1/4 inch single-head open-end wrench. It's just under a foot long and at least twice as heavy as my Exhumer 9.

Chicago-based Armstrong Tools has been in the manufacturing business full-time since 1900. The age of this particular wrench is a mystery to me, but judging by its condition it's been around for quite a while. I snagged it for five bucks at a garage sale some years ago. (Today's equivalent will set a buyer back about $40.)

MADE IN U.S.A. is clearly visible on the head of this wrench, as it is on current-production Armstrong tools. From the company's website:
"Armstrong Tools are still, and will continue to be made in the U.S.A."
Now, please permit me to introduce the elephant in the room: Mrs. KintlaLake doesn't expect to do any wrenching with this wrench, any more than I'm likely to be prying stuff with my pry-bar.

To be clear here, we tote these tools so that we have something to swing in an emergency. The purpose may be self-defense or escape. The target may be an attacker, or it could be the window of a burning or submerged vehicle.

In a wilderness-survival situation, the primary field-expedient weapon is the club. My missus and I simply are applying a variation of that principle to everyday life.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Today's notable quotes

"[The birth-certificate controversy] is the most idiotic issue I've seen in American politics. And it was just a crock of nonsense. I don't think the president should have done what he did yesterday."

"Let these people make fools of themselves. I think it's good for the country to see how many idiots there are out there."

"It's a good way to conduct an idiot census in America to see who all the birthers are. It was a good thing and working politically for [Donald Trump] because all of the Republicans that knew anything were trying to run away...and they couldn't get rid of it."

"I find Trump to be very entertaining. I'm kind of for him. I was for [Sarah] Palin, but she didn't want to talk enough. And then Newt [Gingrich] stopped talking, and then [Michele] Bachmann doesn't talk enough. I want more Trump. We ought to have him on TV every day." (James Carville, Democratic Party strategist)

"How did this poisonous and not-very-subtly racist allegation [that Barack Obama wasn't born in the U.S.] get such a grip on our conservative movement and our Republican party?"

"[T]hose who imagine that they somehow enhance the value of [their own U.S.] citizenship by belittling the American-ness of their president -- they not only disgrace the politics they uphold, but they do damage that will not soon be forgotten by the voters a revived Republicanism must win." (David Frum, former speechwriter for Pres. George W. Bush)

"It is often easier to attack a person's character than it is to fight it out on the merits of his or her policies. And, as we've already seen, even with Obama's long-form birth certificate in the open, more questions will arise. But they aren't the questions we should be asking. The questions we should be asking are the tough questions: How do we create more jobs in America? How do we seize control of our spiraling deficits? How do we remain competitive as a nation in the century ahead? The conspiracy questions might be easier to ask, and they might score points for the people who ask them, but they don't score points for this republic.

"Like plenty of conspiracy theorists before them, the birthers have had their day in court. President Obama called their bluff and showed his cards, producing the documentation they requested.

"Now it is time for us to turn our attention back to the real questions that need answers. It's time to move on." (David Gergen, former advisor to U.S. presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton)

(Excuse me)

My unambiguous dismissal of Donald Trump in yesterday's post may remind regular readers of my low regard for the former Mayor of Wasilla. Although this country will be better off if neither is elected to national office, these public figures are very different.

I sat through John King's interview with Trump last night. It was painful to watch, but it crystallized for me the critical distinction:

Sarah Palin is out of her league; Donald Trump is out of his mind.

If we're looking for a comparable character, in my opinion, it's not Caribou Barbie -- it's Charlie Sheen.

I'm baffled that Trump's disciples are, by and large, the same people who decry dishonesty and corruption in government. They express distaste for "elitists" and "the ruling class," rightly calling for a return to constitutional values and government by The People.

It would make more sense to me if an arrogant real-estate mogul with a long track record of deceit was their villain, but no -- inexplicably, he's a freakin' hero.

Yes, the Constitution gives the inarticulate Trump the right to thump his chest -- "I've done a great service to [sic] the American people" -- and fool the foolish. But I, for one, hope that the media continue to exercise their First Amendment rights as well, mercilessly riding his megalomaniacal ass and exposing him as the fraud he is.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Don't flatter yourself

The White House just released Pres. Barack Obama's original birth certificate -- y'know, the unofficial version with no legal significance whatsoever. It's the one that so-called "birthers" have been clamoring for, the one that Donald Trump has been "investigating."

On hearing the news, Trump addressed the press in New Hampshire.
"Today I'm very proud of myself."

"I'm really honored -- I'm really proud that I was able to accomplish something that nobody else was able to accomplish."

"I take great credit."
Trump is not, as his soft-headed groupies are fond of saying, a successful businessman -- first and foremost he's a narcissistic huckster infatuated with the sound of his own voice. Near as I can tell, he's never in his life made a decision that wasn't in the calculated interest of either his net worth or his inflated ego.

George Will -- or his grandmother, actually -- has a word for Trump:
"He is what is called a 'blatherskite'...someone who blathers promiscuously."
And Charles Krauthammer draws an apt parallel:
"Trump is the Al Sharpton of the Republican party -- provocateur and clown."
This shameless self-promoter has no business (you should pardon the expression) being considered seriously for President of The United States, an office that requires a balance of thoughtfulness, passion and selfless patriotism. Hell, give me 'til this time tomorrow and I'll find you a better candidate for the Republican Party nomination in a neighborhood bar at closing time.

Trump has demonstrated no capacity for critical thought; what passes for passion is nothing more than pomposity. Worst of all, his conduct is anything but that of a patriot.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Signs of the season

It's been a record-setting April, rainfall-wise -- a good thing, if you ask me. The squishy back yard we curse today is the brimming reservoirs we'll bless come August.

So ten days have passed since I last mowed the lawn, and I don't mind the break one bit. Dandelions compete with ajuga and spring beauties, along with a surprisingly large crop of violets. In another neighborhood we might be cited for violating homeowners-association rules, but here in the village those "weeds" are colorful heralds of spring.

Scout and I went for a short walk late this morning. As we rounded the back side of the garage, a startled robin flushed from the eaves. I turned to look where he'd come from and saw that he and his missus have been busy.

The nest is empty right now, but I'll keep a respectful eye on it over the next few weeks.

My village neighbors will understand why I'm closing this post with one more image of the violets blooming at the moss-covered base of our ash tree. This simple woodland flower symbolizes our community, and we hold it in high regard.

Addendum: Prying ayes

As luck would have it, my smaller Dead On Tools Exhumer™ showed up in the P.O. box not long after I finished yesterday's post.

To recap, the Exhumer 8 (MSRP $19.79, Home Depot $9.99) measures 8-5/8 inches long. Turning it over in my hand I notice that it's slightly thinner and significantly lighter than the Exhumer 9, and the inside of its "cat's paw" is designed a bit differently.

The larger tool will be a better nail-puller and a better hammer -- leverage, mass and all that -- but the Exhumer 8's size and weight make it an excellent choice for my grab'n'go kit.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Prying ayes

One sure way to ruin a perfectly good blade is to try prying something with it. We hear that caution shortly after being issued our very first knife -- and still we insist on learning our lessons the hard way.

Carrying a pocketable pry-bar helps me avoid the temptation to abuse my knives. And like many KintlaLake Blog readers, I'll wager, I've settled on a CountyComm Widgy®.

The tool is offered in three sizes -- the Pocket Widgy is four inches long, the Micro Widgy three inches and the Pico Widgy two inches. Priced from $4.00 to $5.50 each, they're made of D9 steel.

The mid-size Micro works well for my everyday carry, and the other models have found their way into various kits. It's common, I'm told, to apply a cord wrap to a Widgy, adding a personal touch and helping to muffle pocket rattle. (Check out the video tutorial here.)

As handy as it can be to have a tiny pry-bar along, sometimes a more substantial tool is called for -- nastier than a Widgy but more portable than a FuBar. Enter the Death Stick® Exhumer™ 9 from Dead On Tools.

I learned about Exhumer nail-pullers just last week, through an e-mail preparedness newsletter. The Exhumer 9 (MSRP $23.10, Home Depot $14.99) is the second-smallest of five offered by Dead On, and I have to say that the mere act of holding it in my hand makes me smile -- it feels as wonderfully wicked as its name implies.

Overall length of the tool, which is made of S5 steel with phosphate coating, is 10-5/8 inches. The "cat's paw" end features an opposing striking face. On the back side is a saw wrench and -- no kidding -- a bottle opener.

The simple paracord wrap (pictured) is my addition.

Now some folks may look at the Exhumer and imagine only carpentry and light-duty structural demolition. But if a hunk of investment-cast tool steel with sharp claws on both ends inspires you to consider its personal-defense potential... well, you're not alone.

With that in mind, then, my Exhumer 9 is going to live in the door pocket of my TrailBlazer, within easy reach of the driver's left hand. I'll also be adding a smaller, lighter Exhumer 8 (MSRP $19.79, Home Depot $9.99, 8-5/8 inches long) to my grab'n'go kit.

I mean, there's no telling when I'll bump into a nail that's just begging to be pulled. Y'know?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Yes, officer, that's my carbon footprint

It's Earth Day 2011, for what (little) it's worth, our annual reminder that we're doing more to destroy the planet than we possibly could do to save it -- unless, of course, we accept onerous regulations and pay higher taxes (and higher prices) for the privilege of being regulated.

(That must be what Earth Day Network means when it asks us to commit "A Billion Acts of Green®" today.)

Browsing related news this morning, I saw a story on 24/7 Wall St. about the "environmental friendliness" of each U.S. state. Tiny, non-industrial Vermont took top honors as the "most green" [sic] state.

And the "least green" state? Ohio.

The ranking doesn't move this Buckeye one way or another. What 24/7 Wall St. calls "analysis" is nothing more than statistical goulash, and I can't help but notice that four of five bordering states -- Indiana, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky -- join Ohio in the bottom ten.

Here in the old Rust Belt, my neighbors and I don't feel too terribly guilty about that. We don't consider ourselves backward or somehow inferior, either, even though a bunch of pointy-headed New York journalists say we are.

Y'all go and have your big ol' Earth Day party without us, 'cause we've got a whole mess of irons in the fire right now -- like keepin' our jobs, payin' our taxes and pretty much just tryin' to stay afloat.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Wallpaper for a Centennial

[Adapted from the 1914 edition of U.S. War Department Pamphlet No. 1866: Description of the Automatic Pistol, Caliber .45, Model of 1911, with Rules for Management, Memoranda of Trajectory, and Description of Ammunition, 1917 printing. It's available as a pdf and in other formats at The Internet Archive. The U.S. Army adopted the John Browning-designed Colt M1911 a century ago last month.]

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Were you confused?

Posted on this morning:
"The Department of Homeland Security is unveiling its new two-level terror alert system today, replacing the often confusing color-coded effect since 9/11."
I can't, for the life of me, figure out what was so confusing about the five-level system we'd been living with for ten years. In reality it was only a three-tier system anyway -- we'll never again see a blue day or even a green moment. The two lowest levels were invented for people who still believe there's such a thing as safety.

So next week we'll have two levels -- Elevated and Imminent -- because too many Americans couldn't count to three, even with pretty colors.

DHS reportedly is forming a "counter-terrorism advisory board" that'll meet within 30 minutes of uncovering a threat. In this alert-by-committee scheme, a public warning must be issued within two hours. Ambitious, sure, but there's more:
"An individual threat alert is issued for a specific time period and then automatically expires. It may be extended if new information becomes available or the threat evolves."
That gem, set forth in the bureaucratic dialect, is the so-called "Sunset Provision" -- yet another artifice for a simple-minded populace that prefers its warnings, like cottage cheese, to have expiration dates. (See also "exit strategy.")

Those of us who cultivate a preparedness mindset won't be leaning too hard on any DHS system -- living color or monochrome, two levels or two hundred. It's but one of many voices informing our choices.

Independence isn't easily confused. Liberty trusts experience over decree. We operate from a continuum of vigilance that the masses never will understand.

Urban Resources: NOAA Weather Radio

Those of us who live in areas vulnerable to hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and similar natural hazards swear by our weather radios. The technology behind this urban resource has come a long way since I bought my first receiver at Radio Shack in the '70s.

NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards (NWR) is a nationwide network of transmitters broadcasting weather forecasts, conditions and alerts directly from the closest National Weather Service office. In addition, NWR broadcasts information about non-weather threats -- earthquakes. chemical spills, AMBER alerts, 911 system outages and more.

The biggest difference between today's NWR receivers and older weather radios is something called Specific Area Message Encoding technology, or SAME, which makes it possible to program a receiver for a particular county or locality. Once set up, the receiver will respond only to broadcast alerts within the area programmed.

The KintlaLake household relies on a pair of SAME-capable Midland WR-100 units (MSRP $50, street price $30 or less). One sits on a table in the master bedroom and the other lives in our basement shelter.

The WR-100 can operate on either plug-in AC or on-board AAs. I've set a reminder in my Palm Pre to replace the batteries annually, and we keep fresh spares near each radio. Also, because we live in a corner of our county, we've programmed our WR-100s with SAME IDs for two neighboring counties as well.

Throughout yesterday, meteorologists were forecasting nasty storms overnight and, sure enough, our bedroom receiver began barking shortly after midnight. It makes me cranky (to say the least) to drag my ass out of bed and across the room to silence alerts for severe thunderstorm warnings, but I'd rather know than not know.

By 2am we were under a
tornado watch. I was still awake when the tornado warning came in at 2:30am.

We woke the 16-year-old, grabbed the dogs and took refuge in the basement. The NWS gave our village the all-clear an hour later, and my wife and the spawn returned to bed. I brewed a pot of coffee and stayed up to watch local news.

According to reports, a tornado touched down several miles south of here and straight-line winds in excess of 100mph were recorded to our northeast. Our immediate surrounds got quite a blow but escaped essentially without damage -- just heavy rain and downed limbs.

Our weather radios gave us a heads-up to the threat, however, providing us with the information we needed to protect ourselves. Along with a shortwave receiver, a couple of multi-band scanners and a handful of GMRS transceivers, they're invaluable components of this family's comm system.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Great Cup Roundup

Yesterday's post got me thinking about the dozens of metal cups that have accompanied me over the years. On a whim, I went rummaging through my gear and found four more that are still with me.

Along with my newly acquired GI canteen cup there's an original-style Sierra, a GSI with folding wire handles, a Coleman Peak1 with a rigid wire handle and a battered aluminum cup that first saw trailside duty when I wore the rank of Tenderfoot Scout. Together they span more than four decades of picnic lunches, day hikes, backpacking trips and motorcycle tours.

In the field, especially when packing light, a good cup is more than just a receptacle for beverages and soup. It's a dinner plate and a cook pot, a wash basin and even a trowel.

Each design has advantages, of course, as well as disadvantages. I've probably used various Sierra cups more than any other type, even though their relatively small capacity almost always disappoints.

Lately, with an eye on condensing my kit as much as is practical, I'm leaning more toward a "nesting" setup -- thus the GI canteen cup and also the stainless-steel GSI, which mates with a common Nalgene bottle in similar fashion. A cup's volume has become more important to me, too, primarily for water-purification purposes, so it's no accident that the GI and GSI are the largest of the bunch.

An intimate relationship can develop between cup and camper, for reasons that I hope need no explanation. That's why my well-worn Boy Scout dipper remains a sentimental favorite.

We cemented our bond in 1972, I think, at Philmont Scout Ranch. Over 75 miles of dusty trail it hung from a pack strap or my belt, clink-clanking at the end of a rawhide thong. It served me hot cocoa and tepid bug juice, beef stew and mac'n'cheese. A half-dozen years later, it drew icy water from Kintla Creek.

Other cups may be bigger or more versatile, but that one's a keeper.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Old haunt, old hardware

On Saturday, Mrs. KintlaLake and I postponed our springtime yard work a week, choosing instead to head into Columbus and stroll the sidewalks south of the OSU campus. Our first stop was a military-surplus store, a door that I hadn't darkened since my college days.

The place is as wonderfully dim and musty today as it was 35 years ago. I was pleased to find a decent selection of used and true surplus goods, and little of the cheap faux mil that dominates similar shops.

It felt great to be back in those dingy confines. I lingered a good long while, finally marking my return with a five-dollar purchase.

Nothing fancy, mind you -- I bought a used USGI canteen cup.

I can't say just how old it is. The vessel is aluminum and the handle, stamped with US and INGERSOLL PRODUCTS, is steel. Its strap-type handle, which preceded the wire "butterfly" style, might date it to the 1960s or as early as WWII, or maybe sometime in between.

In any case, dents and rust testify to hard use by someone at some point -- but the rivets are tight, the latch is straight and the vessel is intact. So, like a certain old carpenter's hatchet, this cup's service life is far from over.

I took some time to clean it up a bit, of course, attacking the rusty handle with a wire brush and giving it a thorough scrubbing. Now paired with my 1980s-vintage GI canteen, it's one solid piece of kit.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Putting a Capp on comics

I'll conclude my peek at government comics with two on Civil Defense.

The FCDA tapped cartoonist Al Capp to draw Mr. Civil Defense Tells About Natural Disasters! (1956) and Operation Survival! (1957). Capp's well-known "Li'l Abner" shows up on both covers, but only as bait -- the stories inside unfold in locales other than Dogpatch, populated by amusingly stereotypical 1950s characters.

These taxpayer-funded 'toons are intriguing slices of the early Cold War years. From our present-day perch they're naive, perhaps, but I find their simplism entertaining and, in a way, quite instructive.

As I've said, "The older I get, the simpler I like it."

Sunday, April 10, 2011

T&A in government comics

I know it's hard to imagine, but political correctness hasn't always been with us. Witness these examples, clipped from military "pamphlets" -- informational comic books, really -- that were issued to Vietnam-era U.S. Army soldiers.

The illustration above appears in Troubleshooting Equipment in Combat Units (DA Pam 750-22), published in 1973. "How to Strip Your Baby," below, comes from the 1969 edition of The M16A1 Rifle: Operation & Preventive Maintenance (DA Pam 750-30), which I highlighted in yesterday's post.

The latter, especially, is just priceless.

There's a lot more where those two came from. If you're interested, the best repositories of government comics I've found are the University of Nebraska Libraries' Image & Multimedia Collections and the Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries Digital Collections.

But alas, Will Eisner is dead and political correctness is alive and well, so we'll not see the like again. You can take my word for that.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

M16A1 comic book (1969)

[Click here to download a .pdf version from the University of Nebraska Libraries' Image & Multimedia Collections. For more government comics, click here.]

Friday, April 8, 2011

Update: A good edge gets rolled

Back in October, I confessed my mixed feelings about Benchmade's acquisition of Lone Wolf Knives. I concluded that post with this:
"I'll be interested to see what Benchmade does with the brand."
What the company has done -- so far, anyway -- is slap the Lone Wolf name on a handful of lower-end folders and fixed-blades, some made offshore. It's kept alive Lone Wolf's Paul Poehlmann-design folders and re-branded them as Benchmade Pauls.

I respect Benchmade and its made-in-USA products, and re-branding the Pauls doesn't give me heartburn. But seeing "Lone Wolf Knives" applied to relatively cheap imports is a big disappointment.

When I interviewed Jim Wehrs last year, he used the word "upscale" a lot. He spoke about heat-treat specs not only for blade steel but also for liners and pins.

"We're not after the Wal-Marts of the world," he said with pride.

I see nothing upscale about the Lone Wolf brand's second act. Those new low-buck models, while they're not yet vying for shelf space at Wal-Mart, make a sad move in that direction.

That said, original-production Lone Wolf Knives are still available, including "Double-Action" autos like my Eagle Talon and my wife's Diablo. One dealer, KnifeWorks, managed to buy a sizeable lot of them from Benchmade and is closing them out at ridiculous prices.

How ridiculous? I'm talkin' $140 to $155 for a D/A automatic with FRN or G-10 scales -- that's half-price (give or take) and an absolute steal on a high-quality American-made knife that generally sold for MSRP.

I've found KnifeWorks to be a stand-up outfit, by the way, and Benchmade will make good on Lone Wolf's limited lifetime warranty.

If this isn't a no-brainer, it's pretty damned close. Get 'em here -- while you can.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Food for thought

[I've been debating whether or not to post Steve Moore's piece since I read it in The Wall Street Journal almost a week ago. I present it now, unabridged, not as gospel but as a thoughtful perspective.]

We've Become a Nation
of Takers, Not Makers

More Americans work for the government than in manufacturing, farming, fishing, forestry, mining and utilities combined.

By Stephen Moore

If you want to understand better why so many states -- from New York to Wisconsin to California -- are teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, consider this depressing statistic: Today in America there are nearly twice as many people working for the government (22.5 million) than in all of manufacturing (11.5 million). This is an almost exact reversal of the situation in 1960, when there were 15 million workers in manufacturing and 8.7 million collecting a paycheck from the government.

It gets worse. More Americans work for the government than work in construction, farming, fishing, forestry, manufacturing, mining and utilities combined. We have moved decisively from a nation of makers to a nation of takers. Nearly half of the $2.2 trillion cost of state and local governments is the $1 trillion-a-year tab for pay and benefits of state and local employees. Is it any wonder that so many states and cities cannot pay their bills?

Every state in America today except for two -- Indiana and Wisconsin -- has more government workers on the payroll than people manufacturing industrial goods. Consider California, which has the highest budget deficit in the history of the states. The not-so Golden State now has an incredible 2.4 million government employees -- twice as many as people at work in manufacturing. New Jersey has just under two-and-a-half as many government employees as manufacturers. Florida's ratio is more than 3 to 1. So is New York's.

Even Michigan, at one time the auto capital of the world, and Pennsylvania, once the steel capital, have more government bureaucrats than people making things. The leaders in government hiring are Wyoming and New Mexico, which have hired more than six government workers for every manufacturing worker.

Now it is certainly true that many states have not typically been home to traditional manufacturing operations. Iowa and Nebraska are farm states, for example. But in those states, there are at least five times more government workers than farmers. West Virginia is the mining capital of the world, yet it has at least three times more government workers than miners. New York is the financial capital of the world -- at least for now. That sector employs roughly 670,000 New Yorkers. That's less than half of the state's 1.48 million government employees.

Don't expect a reversal of this trend anytime soon. Surveys of college graduates are finding that more and more of our top minds want to work for the government. Why? Because in recent years only government agencies have been hiring, and because they offer of near lifetime security is highly valued in these times of economic turbulence. When 23-year-olds aren't willing to take career risks, we have a real problem on our hands. Sadly, we could end up with a generation of Americans who want to work at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

The employment trends described here are explained in part by hugely beneficial productivity improvements in such traditional industries as farming, manufacturing, financial services and telecommunications. These produce far more output per worker than in the past. The typical farmer, for example, is today at least three times more productive than in 1950.

Where are the productivity gains in government? Consider a core function of state and local governments: schools. Over the period 1970-2005, school spending per pupil, adjusted for inflation, doubled, while standardized achievement test scores were flat. Over roughly that same time period, public-school employment doubled per student, according to a study by researchers at the University of Washington. That is what economists call negative productivity.

But education is an industry where we measure performance backwards: We gauge school performance not by outputs, but by inputs. If quality falls, we say we didn't pay teachers enough or we need smaller class sizes or newer schools. If education had undergone the same productivity revolution that manufacturing has, we would have half as many educators, smaller school budgets, and higher graduation rates and test scores.

The same is true of almost all other government services. Mass transit spends more and more every year and yet a much smaller share of Americans use trains and buses today than in past decades. One way that private companies spur productivity is by firing underperforming employees and rewarding excellence. In government employment, tenure for teachers and near lifetime employment for other civil servants shields workers from this basic system of reward and punishment. It is a system that breeds mediocrity, which is what we've gotten.

Most reasonable steps to restrain public-sector employment costs are smothered by the unions. Study after study has shown that states and cities could shave 20% to 40% off the cost of many services -- fire fighting, public transportation, garbage collection, administrative functions, even prison operations -- through competitive contracting to private providers. But unions have blocked many of those efforts. Public employees maintain that they are underpaid relative to equally qualified private-sector workers, yet they are deathly afraid of competitive bidding for government services.

President Obama says we have to retool our economy to "win the future." The only way to do that is to grow the economy that makes things, not the sector that takes things.

Mr. Moore is senior economics writer for The Wall Street Journal editorial page.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

'The base of organized self-protection'

In September of 1950, the National Security Resources Board presented its report, United States Civil Defense, to Pres. Harry S. Truman. In the hands of Congress it became the Federal Civil Defense Act of 1950, which Truman signed into law the following January.

To be sure, the report and subsequent legislation sired a massive bureaucracy -- the FCDA and its inertia-bound grandchildren, FEMA and DHS. But rather than making this a jumping-off point for a harangue about bloated government, I want to focus attention on a simple illustration in the NSRB document.

"The National Civil Defense Pattern" appears on the report's second page. It depicts four concentric rings of civil defense, from local to federal. Notice what's at the center of the pattern:
Calm and well-trained

The base of organized self-protection
Also within the inner circle are NEIGHBORHOOD and COMMUNITY. Governments occupy the outer rings -- "if needed" and "as needed."

A 61-year-old cartoon got the concept of preparedness exactly right. Ideally, it begins with individuals taking personal responsibility for their own readiness. Individuals build a "base of self-protection" within the household, on the family.

Readiness spreads from homes to neighborhoods and communities. Reliance on government is a last resort.

Look at where we are today, as a nation. We lean on government like a drunk on a lamppost. We're soft, complacent and dependent -- and we're not ready. Only tin-hatted kooks think about preparedness and home defense, don'tcha know. Hell, nearly half of all Americans want to rob the rest of us of the right to defend ourselves.

The difference between that old civil-defense illustration and what we've become is the difference between Fargo and New Orleans.

We can't fix this ill-prepared culture of entitlement -- really, we can't -- but we can refuse to be part of it. We can declare independence from the dependent masses and act in the best interests of our families, our neighborhoods and our communities.

We know that preparedness begins at home, and we don't need government to help us take care of business.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Just as our winter seemed to observe the first of December, so our spring arrived with April.

Milder temps have been with us since Friday, rising into and through the 60s. Yesterday we had two weeks' worth of rain in a few hours. Right now the preceding season's chill is making a brief return, but we've turned the corner, I think.

The songbirds are back, our lawn is greening and the neighbor's forsythia is in bloom. Hyacinths are up by the front steps and daffodils glow at the edge of the woods. An insistent breeze, missing its icy edge, carries a train's horn and hymn tunes. (If you ask me, everyone should live within earshot of a carillon and railroad tracks.)

Springtime isn't a spectator sport, of course. Our vegetable garden-to-be begs to be tilled and planted. Shrubbery and flower beds must be weeded and mulched. If we want our crabapple tree to survive another year, it should be pruned before it blooms.

Over the winter, weighty ice and snow brought down a fair number of branches, which I piled behind the garage -- those need to be bucked and added to our humble woodpile.

I'll sharpen shovels and hoes and cutting tools, and I'll give our walk-behind mower a once-over in anticipation of seven months' duty. The work will begin this weekend.

All work and no play? Hardly. A few days ago I liberated my motorcycle from its winter storage. Battery freshly charged, it started on the first try -- no drama whatsoever.

I haven't yet completed the annual ritual by taking the bike out for the first ride of the season, but that'll happen soon. I'm thinkin' Saturday.

[The image above is from ABC of Victory Gardens, published in 1943 by the USDA.]

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Sharps: When is a Scout not a Scout?

Dear Parents and Carers:

During the next few weeks we intend to pursue traditional Scoutcraft, teaching our Scouts about axemanship, bush saws and knives.

We will teach good-practice dos and don'ts and use of woodcraft tools, encouraging responsibility and safety. We know this will be challenging for our Scouts, but we believe it will help develop responsibility and maturity.

Should you wish that your Scout not participate in an activity involving knives and axes, please make us aware of your wishes. You may choose to keep your Scout at home on those days. We will, of course, support your decision.

Please note that even after a Scout earns the Knife Badge, Scouting regulations prohibit the carrying of a knife under any circumstances without the express permission of the Scout Leader, and even then only when the Scout is in camp or is directly supervised.

Many thanks,
Your Scout Leaders

[That isn't a work of pessimistic fiction -- it's typical of letters sent to parents and "carers" of Scouts in the U.K. these days.]

Friday, April 1, 2011

Close-by cordage

I like doing business close to home, and I've said so here many times.

The "Made in USA" label carries weight with me. Buying goods made locally and services offered by members of my own community means even more. Sometimes it's either impractical or impossible to exercise my commercial preferences, of course, but I do my best.

Early this week I found myself on the outskirts of Columbus with time to kill. I dropped into a military-surplus store, browsed a while and emerged with a hank of polypropylene utility rope and two 100-foot bundles of 550 paracord.

I noticed right away that all three items carried the name of Atwood Rope Mfg., tags prominently displaying the U.S. flag. Later, a visit to the company's website revealed that Atwood Rope is located in a neighboring village, just ten minutes from here -- a pleasant surprise.

The next time I'm braiding paracord, which should be soon, it'll be good to know that I'm using a local product. And what the hell, a trip over to Atwood Rope's offices may be in order, too -- we'll see.